Sources in Washington have indicated that the cyber attack last June which targeted the office of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was conducted by the Chinese military.
According to a report in the London Financial Times, "senior US officials" and "persons familiar with the event" have briefed that there is a “very high level of confidence...trending towards total certainty” within the Pentagon that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) carried out the June attack. That was seen as a particularly significant event, apparently, as it involved disruption of networks as well as passive snooping.
The FT quoted a former official as saying that:
“The PLA has demonstrated the ability to conduct attacks that disable our system...and the ability in a conflict situation to re-enter and disrupt on a very large scale.”
The US military has long warned of a rising cyber-warfare capability in the PLA, releasing a report earlier this year that China "is expanding from the traditional land, air, and sea dimensions of the modern battlefield to include space and cyber-space".
The document said that the inscrutable commies are also developing an "information warfare" force capable of "computer network attack," to achieve "electromagnetic dominance".
America has been far from idle in rising to meet this challenge; indeed there has been something of a scramble among the US military to gets its cyber boots on. The US Air Force has been particularly active, forming up a Cyber Command that may, in the future, be manned up at least in part by career net-combat specialists.
Quite apart from cyberspace, confrontation with China is one of the few justifications for much of America's huge panoply of ultra-high-tech air, maritime and perhaps space weaponry. This is stuff that many in the Pentagon love and believe in passionately, but which is occasionally threatened by the basic counter-insurgency wars the US is currently fighting. Huge amounts of money are being spent on things including armoured trucks, which could have gone on satellite-busters or energy weapons or something.
So leaks out of the Pentagon that big up China as a threat always need to be taken with a pinch of salt. It's a certainty that the PLA probes US networks, just as the US does Chinese ones. It's very likely that China is prepping some naughty network tricks for use in the event of a serious scuffle with America - and again, this will not be a one-sided effort.
But China doesn't want to fight the US - who would pay for all the iPods? And America doesn't really want to fight China - where would they get all the damn iPods made?
If the PLA really did shut down Robert Gates's unclassified email, it was a schoolboy error to show their hands so early. All they have achieved - if it was them - is give their adversaries ammo to use in demanding more resources to fight them with. And it seems exceptionally sloppy to get traced back, when it would be simplicity itself for government hats* to operate out of third countries.
But nobody's saying the PLA are all that clever, so it may well have been them. If it was, though, they evidently aren't as fiendishly cunning as all that.
FT writeup here.®
*Whitehat if you're Chinese, blackhat if American. Govhats? Redstarhats? Milhats? Spookhats?